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Medical marijuana poll: Most L.A. voters support dispensaries

October 22, 2009 | 10:00 am

More than three-quarters of the voters in Los Angeles County want to see medical marijuana dispensaries regulated, rather than prosecuted and forced to close, according to a poll released today by a national organization that supports marijuana legalization.

The poll, completed Monday and Tuesday, also found that 74% support the state's medical marijuana law, while 54% want to see marijuana legalized, regulated and taxed.

The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., commissioned the poll by an independent firm, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, after Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley threatened all dispensaries in the county with prosecution.

Cooley and Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich argue that the stores, which now number in the hundreds, are selling marijuana for profit in violation of state law.

"I think the take-home message here is voters in L.A. County overwhelmingly support the state's medical marijuana law. They think dispensaries, properly regulated, can be a part of that, and Mr. Cooley's really out of step," said Bruce Mirken, the California-based spokesman for the organization.

The poll of 625 voters found that 77% of voters want to regulate dispensaries, while 14% want them closed. Both Democrats (83%-7%) and Republicans (62%-30%) support regulation over prosecution. The Los Angeles City Council is on the verge of adopting regulations after two years of debate and almost 13 years after voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act.

The proposed law would ban sales of marijuana. Dispensary operators say they do not sell it, but collect donations to recoup their costs, but they fear the ordinance will be used against them.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said that Cooley merely intends to enforce state law. "Selling marijuana over the counter for profit is a violation of the law," she said. "Mr. Cooley has said that, if it is found that the marijuana is being supplied in accord with the Compassionate Use Act, then those operations are not targets."

The poll found support for treating marijuana similarly to alcohol among county voters across most demographics, except voters who are 65 or older and Republicans. Both groups oppose it by about a 10-point margin. Young people, voters between 18 and 34, strongly support legalization, 72%-18%.

Legalization supporters are collecting signatures for four different initiatives that could be on the ballot next year. The Marijuana Policy Project has reservations about moving forward, noting that younger voters typically turn out more heavily in presidential election years.

The poll underscores the growing support for legalization, but the majority is not a large one. "It's a sign of huge progress," Mirken said. "It's not a sign that you are going to win."

Mason-Dixon randomly selected voters from the county's registration list and interviewed those who said they voted regularly. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

-- John Hoeffel

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